When it comes to budget wireless earbuds, as you get closer to the $100 mark, or lower, you become a bit more forgiving to certain shortcomings. While you know that what you’ve been given maybe isn’t as good as what a premium brand is offering, as a consumer, you’ll rationalise those flaws – “Ah, the noise cancelling isn’t great, but for what I’m paying, it’s not that bad.”
But what if I told you didn’t have to make those compromises? What if there were a pair of budget earbuds that offered an experience that was well above its affordable pay grade?
With a retail price of $170, the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC have easily shot up to near the top of the list of my favourite earbuds. Now let me tell you why.
How do the Soundcore Liberty 4 NC work?
If you’re not familiar with Anker, it’s a tech brand that predominately produces chargers, power banks and cables but also has a few specifically focused sub-brands. These include the robovac and security camera brand Eufy, and the audio label, Soundcore.
It took a while for me to get used to these earbuds, purely because I haven’t owned a pair that has an arm. Each earbud uses touch controls, which are pretty sensitive so you only need a light touch to trigger them. The touch controls are also customisable for each individual earbud, so you’re able to split out all of the necessary functions across both without doubling up.
For physical customizability, the earbuds come with four pairs of silicone ear tips, so you can get a snug fit going.
The earbuds also use on-ear sensors, so if you pull one out it’ll automatically pause whatever you’re listening to – although I found there’s a slight one-second delay between removing the earbud and the music being paused. It has the ability to be connected to two devices via Bluetooth 5.3 simultaneously, which has made swapping from my phone to my laptop incredibly smooth.
The Liberty 4 NC boasts an impressive battery life of 10 hours, with an additional 40 hours stored in the charging case. For comparison, the second generation AirPods Pro have a battery life of six hours, with up to 30 hours with the charging case. When the Liberty 4 NC’s charging case is due for a recharge itself, its button will also change colour from white to red. The charging case will also flip open when you hit the button, which is a small but incredibly satisfying thing.
The companion app is very straightforward and easy to navigate. I’ll get into some of its functions in the following sections, but one thing that really caught my eye was the Safe Volume feature, which will let you know whether or not the volume you’re listening at is safe for your hearing. It’ll also let you activate a high-volume limiter, that’ll work in the background by capping the decibel level you want to be exposed to.
How does the Soundcore Liberty 4 NC sound?
To say I’m impressed by the quality of these earbuds would be an understatement. Even with just using the default mix settings, everything I listened to sounded so crisp and balanced – from the jangly pop-rock of R.E.M. to the crushing industrial menace of Nine Inch Nails.
Even on more densely-layered albums like DJ Shadow’s Entroducing or Bjork’s Post, the earbuds manage to maintain a richness of depth across the highs, mids and lows. The bass in particular sounds very robust, especially as you wade into those deeper tones. I could feel the 808 drums in ‘Brass Monkey’ by the Beastie Boys turning my brain into jelly.
The Sound Effects library gives you over 20 preset equaliser settings but if you want something more personal, it’s worth taking five minutes to use the HearID feature. This will give you a custom equaliser profile that’s based on the results of a short hearing test and an A/B preference test. I was impressed by this custom EQ and thought it did a great job of adding to my listening experience.
However, I would avoid using the 3D Surround Sound feature. It doesn’t add anything to the listening experience, but instead messes with the music’s mix and makes every part of it sound tinny and low quality.
How good is its noise cancellation?
I won’t lie, when I first popped these earbuds in, I assumed the noise cancellation would just be okay. Not bad, but nowhere near the best I’ve heard in the past. But you know what they say – when you assume you make an ass out of u and me. And if you assk me, u‘d be hard-pressed to find better noise-cancelling at this price point. It goes well above my expectations at this price point, doing a fantastic job of muting ambient noise.
While the Soundcore Liberty 4 NC does use Adaptive Noise Cancelling, there’s also a manual mode if you want to adjust the levels on the fly. The noise-cancellation on these things is absurdly good. I spent an afternoon walking through the CBD on a Saturday arvo, and it did a great job of reducing the roar of the crowds and traffic around me (I alternated between the adaptive and manual modes).
With the Adaptive Noise Cancelling feature, there’s also an “Environmental Detection” setting, which confused me because isn’t that what adaptive noise cancelling is already? I did use the earbuds with Environmental Detection enabled a few times, but as far as I could tell, there wasn’t a noticeable difference between having it and not having it on.
There are even pre-made ANC options based on various modes of public transport but, again, I don’t know why you’d opt for these when you can just keep the Adaptive Noise Cancelling active.
The wind reduction feature isn’t automatically active, and while you don’t need it active 24/7, I cannot imagine having that feature turned off when outside. Why go to the trouble of muting ambient noise, only to have it sound like someone is blowing directly into your ears?
I also found that everything sounds pretty crisp through Transparency Mode (it offers full transparency and a Vocal Mode). I had no problem ordering coffee or having a quick chat with someone while wearing these earbuds – especially when I used the Vocal Mode.
Should you buy a pair of Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC earbuds?
Earlier this year, I reviewed the Jabra Elite 4 and while I praised the audio quality and noise-cancelling abilities of those earbuds, I didn’t think they were must-buys. Good earbuds, but they’re not something you’d be trading up to unless you were on a strict budget.
While the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC is a bit more expensive than the Elite 4, their overall quality combined with a less than $200 price tag makes them absolute must-buys if you’re after a pair of earbuds. If I’m being brutally honest, they’re even better than the more expensive Jabra Elite 7 Pro.
With that said, I don’t think the audio quality is as good as the Sennheiser Momentum 3, and the noise-cancellation doesn’t fully live up to my beloved Bose QuietComfort earbuds. But the earbuds from those big-name brands cost over double what you’d pay for the Liberty 4 NC, but considering what you’re paying and what you get with these earbuds I don’t think you’re making any compromises in terms of affordability and quality. I don’t know what audio magic Anker has been messing with, but it has clearly worked out in its favour.